Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Just a Song Before I Go

So. That’s it.

Today, I’ll be hanging up my keyboard.

I’ve given a lot of thought recently as to why I blog and why I started in the first place. I have been at looking a series of diminishing personal returns here in the last couple of months.

That’s why I think it’s best to just make a clean break. That’s also why my last couple of posts were a little out of character, that was something I’ve wanted to write for a long time.

Since I doubt I’ll be visiting my old haunts very often, I’m also going to take the rather drastic step and turn off comments. This isn’t meant to be mean to the couple of people who have read me, it’s just a bow to the reality of comment spam.

I started this experiment almost exactly one year ago. For some reason that first post landed in some alternate WordPress reality. At least it doesn’t show up here anymore.

That first post really wasn’t much. It was simply a youtube video. Somehow once again appropriate.

I wish you peace.

Evolving Politics

One major misconception about evolution is that it finds the best possible, permanent solution to a problem. Sure, evolution has managed some long term success stories; sharks for example have changed little in the past several million years because they managed to become optimized for their environment very early. But summa summarum, most evolutionary solutions only make a temporary appearance before disappearing into the mists of time, 99.9 percent of all species that have existed are now extinct.

Then again evolution isn’t about finding the best permanent solution, it is about finding the best solution to a problem right now. Further, evolution works by tweaking the apparatus it has available either by finding unique recombinations of current tools or slight modifications to already working systems.

It’s that idea of not being a permanent solution that’s makes the idea of human ideas driven by meme oriented mental evolution is so scary. Take for example politics (Please!).

If you were to define the most important characteristic in a successful politician what would you choose? Honesty? Integrity? Intelligence? The foresight not to attempt to have sex in airport bathrooms?

I would argue, wrong on all counts. The most important factor is the ability to be elected to public office. That is proceeded by an ability to get support and funding to run for office in the first place. An inherent likeability, a willingness to lead, a certain lust for power are all key ingredients. None have directly to do with the ability to do a good job. And often that is why we see politicians at every level of government spiral out of control, spouting foolish nonsense because understanding problems isn’t what they are good at; getting elected is.

The most important characteristic in modern politicians is getting into office. Once there, baring any major screw ups on your part or on the part of your political party, you will probably be able to stay in office. That is the trait being selected for. The people supporting democracy, journalists, pundits, lobbyists and bureaucrats are all under a similar selectivity. Journalists are selected not for necessarily writing the truth but for writing things people read (look at Judith Miller). Successful pundits need not produce truth but appropriate platitudes. Lobbyists work incredibly hard to keep the system functioning for their benefit. Most bureaucrats work hard (and for the most part honestly) to achieve their local goals; whether those goals are well meaning or well placed is another question. I’m not claiming these people are corrupt. They are simply perfectly adapted to the systems and enviroments they inhabit. That is the point.

(Note: this is similar to the effect that usually chooses managers in modern companies. The skill (or luck) in generating short term successes, either by impressing the appropriate bosses or producing above average statistics one or two quarters in a row is an important part of moving up corporate hierarchies. The people who have advanced in that manner have a tendency to pick similar people to work for and with them. Thus the system perpetuates itself. The memes get replicated.

The army works in much the same way as can be seen in Fred Kaplan’s must read NY Times piece.)

Now think about the American Revolution and of origins of the modern democratic meme about 250 years ago.

There were a number of factors which led to the success of the American Revolution but perhaps the most important is that it really wasn’t necessary in the first place. Despite what most hard core Conservatives might think, people living in America already had more freedoms than the people in England. As a whole, as a population, even the people in England weren’t suffering any more than the French, the Prussians, the Spanish or any of the other populations in Europe. Oppression is a relative term. If revolution was always a direct consequence of oppression, the medieval feudal systems wouldn’t have lasted for centuries. It was the meme of liberty that caused the unrest leading to the separation of America from her motherland, not any oppressive taxation or real misrepresentation.

That same liberty meme was far less successful elsewhere.

France, the next country to become infected with the virus of democracy, revolted not simply because of the idea, but because the economic system collapsed and the meme was able to move in and take over as a dominate thought. Because the underlying social structures were in such bad shape, the liberal reforms that worked so well in the U.S. were unable to grow in France. Thus you find the Terror and Napoleon’s bloody dictatorship following a popular revolution instead of a time of consolidation and lawmaking like in the U.S. And looking back, far more revolutions follow the French path than the American one. Imposed Democracies work even less often: (Iraq *cough Weimar anyone?)

Democracy was an idea attempted both in ancient Greece and republican Rome but it stilled died out twice. After 1750 years of dormancy, enlightenment thinkers began again to toy with the idea at the beginning of the 18th century; selectively breeding the meme if you will, honing it to perfection. In the U.S. Constitution, those thinkers produced a thoroughbred capable of winning races for centuries to come.

Ultimately, it turns out that during the Industrial Revolution and modern period, democracy as a system is more effective an authoritarian methods at generating wealth and power. Thus democracy managed to spread across the Europe. Slowly, often after several attempts, most countries developed a system of democratic values reflecting some measure of popular support for their government.

Other systems got tried. Stalinist communism for example, more resembled the authoritarian systems that preceded it than the liberal or socialist ideas it pretended to promote. Fascism is another example. A populist mix of authoritarian ideas and democratic preaching that has become a staple factor somewhere in the world since it’s rise in Italy and Germany.

Now, remember, evolution is blind. It wants a solution to today’s problem. It is trying to fill the niches in today’s fitness landscape. The question is: is democracy the best system there can be? Churchill put it best when he quipped, “democracy was the worst system of governance except all those other systems which have been tried from time to time.”

Let’s go back to the racehorse analogy.

The best racehorse bred at the end of the 18th century would probably be a very good horse today. But would it be able to win modern races? Probably not.

People assume democracy is somehow different. That ideas that worked well in largely agricultural, pre-industrial societies can hold up against the test of time. This is the very core of much of Libertarian ideology with it’s accompanying worship of the American Founding Fathers.

This resilience to the travails of time doesn’t necessarily follow from an evolutionary viewpoint. Like a species destroyed by a virus, democracy could be brought down, not because it isn’t good, but because the social and technological landscape changes. The fittest political system need no longer be defined the same way.

The memes used by politicians, pundits and pollsters have become far more sophisticated. The breeding techniques if you will for creating the perfect politician, the perfect party, the perfect movement are becoming better and better. Unfortunately, these techniques have little to do with solving the problems society is faced with. These techniques have little to do with producing long term solutions to permanent problems. They are about solving the most important problem of the day: surviving into the next electoral term; winning the next election. Having an effective politician who changes things for the better is just an added bonus; a spandrel if you will. It is really isn’t the ultimate goal anymore.

I can’t think of a time when I have heard or read about politicians repeating the line “I take full responsibility for..:” whatever it is they’ve screwed up most recently. Why have we been increasingly subjected to this litany of responsibility? Because under earlier mutations of democracy, the very mistakes and misdeeds being repeatedly purpetrated today would have been followed by a resignation and discrace yesterday. Today the person simply stays put or moves horizontally and seamlessly from the public to the private sector, to produce the same mistakes there before moving back to the next step up the public ladder several years later.

Western democracies, led by America, are slowly devolving into something far different from what they were conceived to be. It really isn’t clear whether this change can be reversed or even slowed. I don’t like this idea. It is however a feeling I simply can’t shake.

The symptoms of sickness are clear. An ever widening gap between the haves and the have-nots; the willingness of the rich and leadership classes to literally, physically separate themselves from the rest of the populuation. Think gated communities and charter schools. Are these the precursors to modern castles and monasteries in tomorrow’s incarnation of a feudal system?

Perhaps the most troubling thing isn’t the idea that democracy might collapse but that mankind might even manage to create a new dark ages, a time when learning and science dwindle away. The difference in losing civilization today as opposed to any previous time in mankind’s history is that this time it is likely to be permanent. The easily accessed reserves of metals, coal and oil have been harvested. These are perhaps the most important keys to moving from pre to post industrialization. If civilization falls, it will be a long time, geologic time, before it ever returns.

So. Think about it.

Is democracy slowly following the Dodo into extinction? Can it adapt without mutating into something unrecognizable as democracy? Or was the idea of liberty, a government by and for the people just a dinosaur waiting for the next meteor to strike?

An Open Letter

Dear Lamb and Lynx,

I finally got a chance to see the Channel 4 documentary Nazi Pop Twins by James Quinn. (Hat Tip: Susy Buchanan/SPLC)

All I can do is wish you hope and give you encouragement to stay strong. If the film managed to present even a modicum of reality and your feelings are honestly presented, I can only hope you have a better future than you have had a past.

Listen and learn from your grandmother, she seems to understand the problems that have come from following an ideology full of hate.

I know you will encounter people who will deride you for what you have done in the past and perhaps things you will do in the near future, (to be honest I was one of them), but the problem isn’t you, it’s your mother, it’s your grandfather, it’s the circle of people who have chosen a very sad, distorted reality to follow. I think both of you know that.

Maybe you’ll come across this one day while Googleing your names. I hope it comes at a time when you need encouragement from an annonymous voice. I think I understand the pressures you’re under and want you to know that there are people pulling for you.

Good luck. Again. I wish you strength.

I’ll be leaving you alone for now on.

Petraeus Report to be Written in WH

The Scream by Edward MunchYes, I’m still alive. I’m just not writing because everything is just so mind numbingly depressing.

Karl Rove leaves the White House to go pre-buff Bush’s post-presidential legacy and then move on to use whatever dirty tricks he can find to discredit the Democratic party during the 2008 elections. I suspect he is leaving government service not because he thinks it is time but because the kind of partisan activities he has in mind would be so immensely illegal from a White House position that even Rove got cold feet. (Maybe he just misses his RNC e-mail account.)

Then there is the whole FISA/Wiretapping thing with the Democratic congress happily feeding constitutional rights to Barney, rolling over and going woof every single time anyone in the White House says boo before skittering off into a summer news vaccuum.

The increased sound of war drums being pounded in the direction of Iraq is becoming deafening. It looks like the U.S. is planning once again to make a feign to the U.N. before invading. That is why they are planning to release the plans about declaring the Revolutionary Guard to be a terrorist organisation during the U.N General Assemby next month.

Then we find out that, as opposed to being under fire and in retreat, Alberto Gonzales is planning to “fast track” the death penalty in California and other states. Perhaps because we need to make room on death row for all those terrorists who have been arrested thanks to the TSP and other “undisclosed monitoring activities?” You know, those pesky terrorists we can’t try in criminal courts because we tortured them in violation of their constitutional rights and can’t try in military courts because we tortured them in violation of the Geneva convention? Those folks like Jose Padilla now being convicted of “having engaged in a criminal conspiracy to be nothing so much as an ‘unlawful enemy combatant.'”

There is the media offensive underway by the “journalists” and “experts” that went on their eight vacation daysight seeing tour inspection of Iraq Baghdad with day trips to see “the troops” or perhaps better “military commanders” out in the field. That trip being plastered across the media starting with the NYT Op-Ed by “war critics” Ken Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon (so absolutely debunked by Glen Greenwald) to yesterday’s William Kristol appearance on the Daily Show. (Neat how all those folks were on the same “fact finding junket”, huh?) The spin machine is cranking out positive stories about the Iraq situation well in advance of the September 15 deadline for the Petraeus report.

And then. this morning, I find out, buried in the LA Times article about the Iraq status report, that it will be written, not by Petraeus, or even in the DoD – but in the White House.

Administration and military officials acknowledge that the September report will not show any significant progress on the political benchmarks laid out by Congress. How to deal in the report with the lack of national reconciliation between Iraq’s warring sects has created some tension with in the White House.

Despite Bush’s repeated statements that the report will reflect evaluations by Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, administration officials said it actually will be written by the White House, with inputs from officials throughout the government.

And while Petraeus and Crocker will present their recommendations on Capitol Hill, legislation passed by Congress leaves it to the president to decide how to interpret the report’s data. The senior administration official said the process has created “uncomfortable positions” for the White House because of debates over what constitutes “satisfactory progress.”

The spin goes on. (Oh Karl, we miss you already. Thank God, he and George Bush exchanged telephone numbers.)

Mind-numbingly depressing. No?

Up, Up and Away

Anti-gravity is just so cool in a geeky sense.

According to New Scientist (and today’s Telegraph) researchers may have found a way to play some new games with levitation.

In May 2006, two research teams led by Ulf Leonhardt at St Andrew’s University, UK, and John Pendry at Imperial College, London independently proposed that an invisibility cloak could be created from exotic materials with abnormal optical properties. Such a cloaking device – working in the microwave region – was manufactured later that year.

The device was formed from so-called “metamaterials”, exotic materials made from complex arrays of metal units and wires. The metal units are smaller than the wavelength of light and so the materials can be engineered to precisely control how electromagnetic light waves travel around them. “They can transform space, tricking electromagnetic waves into moving along directions they otherwise wouldn’t,” says Leonhardt.

Leonhardt and his colleague Thomas Philbin, also at St Andrew’s University, realised that this property could also be exploited to levitate extremely small objects.

They propose inserting a metamaterial between two so-called Casimir plates. When two such plates are bought very close together, the vacuum between them becomes filled with quantum fluctuations of the electromagnetic field. As two plates are brought closer together, fewer fluctuations can occur within the gap between them, but on the outer sides of the plates, the fluctuations are unconstrained. This causes a pressure difference on either side of the plates, forcing the plates to stick together, in a phenomenon called the Casimir effect.

This probably won’t start making ships fly to the moon. And despite Professor Leonhardt’s rather humor driven Zero Point Energy reference on his web page describing Quantum Levitation, I get the impression his work is more that serious.

This kind of thing would probalby be extremely important for both low “friction” nano-components where the Casimir effect outweighs “roughness.” It might also be a good way to decouple optical components from external effects allowing for all kinds of precision measurements.

And who knows, perhaps one day, we will have Casimir force driven space making cool “whirrrrr” sounds like on the Jetsons. I doubt it. But it would be drop dead cool.

The Science Fiction of War

I (mis)spent a large portion of my teenage years devouring science fiction and fantasy novels. One of my favorite authors was and still is Robert A. Heinlein.

The WSJ (may she rest in peace) has a opinion piece up by Taylor Dinerman (thanks for the tip Jadxia!) discussing not the science in Heinlein’s work, but the politics.

Even though Heinlein’s political views drifted toward the Libertarian in later life, I’d have to admit that none of his works had more political meaning for me as a teenager than Starship Troopers.

For those who only saw the film and never read the book, believe me they have little in common. The book deals far more with the moral responsibilities citizens bring to a society. (BTW, for anyone who hasn’t read the book, I’d recommend the synopsis here). He does a much better job of doing it than I ever could.)

Perhaps a quick excerpt will help show how extreme the book really was politically. In the course of the story, the main character Juan Rico remembers a required class on political thinking the had taken. The teacher, Mr. Dubois, explains the origin of duties and rights.

“The basis of all morality is duty, a concept with the same relation to group that self-interest has to individual. Nobody preached duty to these kids in a way they could understand — that is, with a spanking. But the society they were in told them endlessly about their ‘rights.’ “

“The results should have been predictable, since a human being has no natural rights of any nature.”

Mr. Dubois had paused. Somebody took the bait. “Sir? How about ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’?”

“Ah, yes, the ‘unalienable rights.’ Each year someone quotes that magnificent poetry. Life? What ‘right’ to life has a man who is drowning in the Pacific? The ocean will not hearken to his cries. What ‘right’ to life has a man who must die if he is to save his children? If he chooses to save his own life, does he do so as a matter of ‘right’? If two men are starving and cannibalism is the only alternative to death, which man’s right is ‘unalienable’? And is it ‘right’? As to liberty, the heroes who signed that great document pledged themselves to buy liberty with their lives. Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called ‘natural human rights’ that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost.

“The third ‘right’? — the ‘pursuit of happiness’? It is indeed unalienable but it is not a right; it is simply a universal condition which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore. Cast me into a dungeon, burn me at the stake, crown me king of kings, I can ‘pursue happiness’ as long as my brain lives — but neither gods nor saints, wise men nor subtle drugs, can insure that I will catch it.”

Amazingly, I both agree and disagree with this passage which ended up being a major part of my moral and political compass. I disagree with the first paragraph, as I have said before, I think morality is evolutionarily hard wired; having moral feelings towards family groups allows species do better than ones that don’t have this characteristic. Morality is the basis for duty not the other way around.

On the other hand, I completely agree with the passage about ‘unalienable rights.’ I’ve never been able to buy into the idea that there are rights to anything. There are contracts. There are things that are moral. I can’t believe they are really rights and they certainly aren’t unalienable. (My God! Have I just outed myself as a libertarian fascist?!)

I disagree with the right to vote and think it should be a duty, it’s a moral obligation not a right. It is a moral obligation required by democratic societies; it is not optional.

It is like the ‘right’ to life. This unalienable right would seem to preclude the right to death, the right to take one’s own life; a choice I think is both important and ‘unalienable’. (But please, of course I wouldn’t argue that anyone can take someone else’s life. Personal choices are not societies choices; what works for the one does not scale to the many. Only pregnant women can eat for two for example.)

I always saw that Starship Troopers as the reaction of someone who had seen the patriotic struggle of the Second World War morph into the political morass that was Korea and would become Vietnam. I thought, and still do think, that much was right. And more was totally wrong.

And that’s why, Starship Troopers is always connected in my mind to a second novel, The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. Where Starship Troopers is the product of patriotism, The Forever War is the product of patriotism distorted and misused. Where the point of Starship Troopers is a just war, a never ending fight for freedom, honor and duty – The Forever War simply highlights the ultimate uselessness of conflict. Haldeman’s classic is perhaps the second pillar in my politial makeup. Together I think the two novels show both the highs and lows of societies.

Maybe if more politicians today would read Haldeman and not Heinlein, we might not be where we are – a world of ‘science fiction‘ not even Heinlein could have imagined.

This didn’t go well.

I don’t even want to know.

(Hat tip: FireDogLake)

Don’t Try This at Home

According to AP reporter Paul Davenport, police responded to an out of control exorcism in Phoenix. It didn’t go well.

Officers responding to a report of an exorcism on a young girl found her grandfather choking her and used stun guns to subdue the man, who later died, authorities said Sunday.
The 3-year-old girl and her mother, who was also in the room during the struggle between 49-year-old Ronald Marquez and officers, were hospitalized, police said. Their condition was unavailable.

The relative who called police said an exorcism had also been attempted Thursday.

“The purpose was to release demons from this very young child,” said Sgt. Joel Tranter.

Now there are a couple of things to think about here.

I’d start by asking what rituals were being used here? Obviously we need more information to be able to avoid this doctrine. I mean, it obviously can’t be a Catholic exorcism because the child was the granddaughter of the exorcist. So, we need much more information here.

But while we’re at this. Let’s take a look at some of the possible ramifications.

Has anyone considered the idea that the exorcism was a partial success? The child was saved and the demons hopped over to the grandfather, who, unable to defend himself, died?

His death obviously can’t be brought in connection with the stun guns. I mean those folks have been telling people for years just how safe stun guns are. Wouldn’t to see want all that PR money get wasted, just because one little exorcism went awry.

But more seriously, just like skeptics always say: <b>these kinds of beliefs</b> (not to mention non lethal weapons) <b>do cause harm</b>. Sometimes the harm is immediate and causes national headlines. Sometimes the harm is low level, causing economic turmoil and unhappiness in an individual family. But these things do cause harm – every day.

When we have a president in the White House who isn’t fact but faith based; when we have an Attorney General whose only connection with reality is the point where his butt meets the witness chair; when we have newspapers, radio and television stations increasingly hammering on the idea that there are always two sides to any story and there is no objective reality; is there any question that this will happen?

I don’t really know what’s worse. The fact that the grandfather died. Or the thought of that young girl growing up in that environment.

But I do know one thing. Don’t try exorcism at home (or anywhere else) !

My General Giggle Notes

I was going to write a different post here, but I thought I’d just share my notes on Tuesday’s Mr. Giggle visit in the Senate. I’ll post my take tomorrow.

Sen. Leahy: Did you mislead us about the violations of the Patriot Act?
Gonzales: Tee Hee. Oops
Sen. Leahy: What’s with the 17 remaining open US Attorneys positions
Gonzales: We’re working on it.
Sen. Leahy: What’s the DOJ’s stand on the Contempt Question
Gonzales: I say nothing!

Sen. Specter: What about the Ashcroft hospital visit
- Gonzales: Just a chat among friends, after emergency meeting with the Gang of Eight
Sen. Specter: Were you there to get approval for NSA wiretapping?
- Gonzales: We never asked.
Sen. Specter: What about executive privilege
- Gonzales: Sorry, that’s under privilege
Sen. Specter: Death Penalty?
- Gonzales: Did I ever hear anything about the death penalty. Can’t recall

Sen. Kohl:
How do we get Guantanamo closed?
- Gonzales: Love to, Let’s just blow up America now.
Sen. Kohl: Filling US Attorney posts?
- Gonzales: What’s with the US Attorney questions?
Sen. Kohl: Why doesn’t DOJ enforce price fixing laws against OPEC?
- Gonzales: We can’t do that. Rich corporations and foreign countries might get grumpy

Sen. Hatch: Bla bla bla. I won’t go into it. His lips were brown when he finished..

Sen. Feinstein: Who wrote the list of people to be fired?
- Gonzales: What list!? You know more than I do! I just signed it.
Sen. Feinstein: How many people have you fired?
- Gonzales: No idea, people come and go. It’s so confusing!
Sen. Feinstein: You want change, why has the new DOJ Voting Rights manual been raped?
- Gonzales: (Rats, she read the book) Um. We’ll look into it.

Sen. Kyl: Guantanamo, good for the US?
- Gonzo: It’s good for me
Sen. Kyl: bla, bla, bla

Sen Cardin: Why were the names on the list
- Gonzales: Good, God fearing reasons. But exactly? No idea.
Sen Cardin: Gang of Eight meetings are classified – Did you just leak classified material?
- Gonzales: It’s OK. GW will retroactively declassify it if necessary.
Sen Cardin: Hiring of career lawyers – has that been fixed? – Gonzales: Just like the voting book.

Sen Grassley: I want my documents (snit)
- Gonzales: Yes, sir
Sen Grassley: Fraud in Iraq?
- Gonzales: Working there is like working in a war zone!
Sen Grassley: Custer Battles case
- Gonzales: waffle, waffle, waffle

Sen Whitehouse: Were activities okayed before Ashcroft went to the hospital
- Gonzales: This is just way too complex to explain to Senators!
Sen Whitehouse: Did you have a document to seek reapproval of the “Program”
- Gonzales: Yes, but we didn’t ask. So there!
Sen Whitehouse: Can Whitehouse control litigation in the DOJ
- Gonzales: (You can’t prove it if we use RNC e-mail accounts) Nah!

Sen. Sessions: Bla, bla, bla. Michelle Malkin illegal immigration, bla, bla bla
Sen. Sessions: Isn’t there a problem with crack sentences being too high?
- Gonzales: They just aren’t high or tough enough!

Sen Schumer: There was only one secret program?
- Gonzales: Yes
Sen Schumer: But you testified that there had been no dissent from DOJ officials…
- Gonzales: Oh. You mean THAT secret wiretapping program. No. No. This was about something completely different.
Sen Schumer: ?!
- Gonzales: Really
Sen Leahy: ?! @#+§$! ?!
- Gonzales: No. Really. Scouts Honor.

Sen Durbin: Executive order on torture. DOJ look at that?
- Gonzales: Sure
Sen Durbin: Any feelings on it?
- Gonzales: No, we in the upper management of the DOJ are robots
Sen Durbin: Would it be legal for foreign countries to treat Americans this way?
- Gonzales: Um. By our laws or theirs?
Sen Durbin: No, Really
- Gonzales: La, La, La, La… I can’t hear you.
Sen Durbin: Guantanamo, why no convictions?
- Gonzales: Too few kangaroo courts

Sen Feingold: @#+§$! @#+§$!!!
- Gonzales: Heh, Heh
Sen Feingold: Have you lied under oath?
- Gonzales: I don’t lie, I weasel
Sen Feingold: Potential liability helps privacy laws
- Gonzales: (Danger, Danger, Non Sequitor) Sure

Sen Kennedy: Torture policy, Can we get the memos on that?
- Gonzales: We have no memos. We give no paper. We are not human.
Sen Kennedy: Torture bla, bla, bla
- Gonzales: Heh, Heh
Sen Kennedy: Peace Corps! They used the Peace Corps to get diplomats to attack Democrats!
- Gonzales: Heh, Heh. Good one, huh?
Sen Kennedy: Did it happen at the DOJ?
- Gonzales: Um. I know nothing!
Sen Kennedy: Why only 2 civil rights cases in voting issues.
- Gonzales: We forgot to fudge the data.

Sen Leahy: Monica Goodling – did you know she was evil?
- Gonzales: No. She was kind of hot.
Sen Leahy: Monica Goodling – did you talk to her about what had happened.
- Gonzales: She was distraught. Did I mention she is kind of hot?
Sen Leahy: Did you tell us you hadn’t talked to anyone?
- Gonzales: I thought you were asking about something else
Sen Leahy: Why deny benefits to public servants
- Gonzales: (Because that would cost money) I’ll look into it.

Sen Specter: If we want to put you in jail, who do we talk to?
- Gonzales: (Just try, sucker!) That would be the Solicitor General.
Sen Specter: TSA not the intelligence activities. Boy, you in a heap of trouble.
- Gonzales: Giggle
Sen Specter: Back to the death penalty, bla, bla, bla
- Gonzales: I don’t remember anything
Sen Specter: @#+§$!
Sen Specter: Oxycontin judgment. Were you on drugs?!
- Gonzales: We got a good price

Sen Whitehouse: I am on the intelligence committee. @#+§$!
- Gonzales: …
Sen Whitehouse: Remember the Ashcroft memo? The one linking the Whitehouse to the DOJ like Siamese twins. The memo you were concerned about.
- Gonzales: Sure
Sen Whitehouse: Why did you sign one similar?
Gonzales: Heh, Heh
Sen Whitehouse: Why did you add the Office of the Vice president, the VP council, the VP Chief of staff etc.
- Gonzales: (Because Cheney uses mind control?)  Because the VP – um – asked? No. Memo. What memo?
Sen Whitehouse: The moral is miserable in the DOJ. You are scum
- Gonzales: Yes, I am. Giggle

Sen Cardin: The meeting with the Gang of Eight. That is classified.
- Gonzales: It was

Sen Schumer: Why were you in the hospital?
- Gonzales: Just visiting
Sen Schumer: Who sent you?
- Gonzales: Can’t say
Sen Schumer: No, really. Who sent you?
- Gonzales: Can’t say
Sen Schumer:
No, really, really. Who sent you?
- Gonzales: No, really, really. Can’t say. They’d eat my soul.

Sen Specter:
We’re kind of grumpy have you noticed?
- Gonzales: heh, heh

Sen Leahy: We’re kind of grumpy have you noticed?
- Gonzales: heh, heh

No Sleeping Says Prince Charming

“The monster”

Ah. Thank goodness!

After a couple of weeks where the Bush administration had things come out on a Wednesday or a Thursday, I was starting to think they had lost their touch. Maybe they found out I cared.

In an executive order issued Friday, Bush again reiterated the US stance on torture,

Bush’s order requires that CIA detainees “receive the basic necessities of life, including adequate food and water, shelter from the elements, necessary clothing, protection from extremes of heat and cold, and essential medical care.”

A senior intelligence official would not comment directly when asked if waterboarding would be allowed under the new order and under related _ but classified _ legal documents drafted by the Justice Department.

However, the official said, “It would be wrong to assume the program of the past transfers to the future.”

A second senior administration official acknowledged sleep is not among the basic necessities outlined in the order.

Remember. This executive order comes out about three weeks after Mr. Bush assured high Presidential Scholars that “America doesn’t torture people.” From the Boston Globe,

Before the scholars posed for a photo with Bush on Monday, she handed him the letter. He put it in his pocket and took it out after the photo shoot. Reading silently to himself, the president looked up quizzically at Oye and said, according to her, “We agree. America doesn’t torture people.”

The scholor who handed the letter to Bush, signed by approximately a third of the students honored, was the daughter of a former detainee; her mother is of Japanese decent, her family interned during the Second World War. One can understand why she cares. (Bush’s grandfather, Prescott, helped fund Hitler which might show why he cares.)

But hey: Let’s give Bush credit. – America doesn’t torture. Um – Right? Let’s see how America used to defined torture. This from an article also in the Washington Post, this time from March 2005

The State Department’s annual human rights report released yesterday criticized countries for a range of interrogation practices it labeled as torture, including sleep deprivation for detainees, confining prisoners in contorted positions, stripping and blindfolding them and threatening them with dogs — methods similar to those approved at times by the Bush administration for use on detainees in U.S. custody.

Look again at the reported language in the new executive order. None of those things are excluded. They just stopped being torture. Because torture is everything the Bush administration decides it won’t do.

According to the definitions in the 2004 State department report – sleep deprivation was still considered “torture”. Under the entry for Saudi Arabia,

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Criminal Procedure section of the Basic law prohibits torture and Shari’a (Islamic law) prohibits any judge from accepting a confession obtained under duress; however, authorities reportedly at times abused detainees, both citizens and foreigners. Ministry of Interior officials were responsible for most incidents of abuse of prisoners, including beatings, whippings, and sleep deprivation. In addition, there were allegations of beatings with sticks and suspension from bars by handcuffs. There were allegations that these practices were used to force confessions from prisoners.

I guess in the last three years, that paragraph wouldn’t be allowed any more.

Once again Prince Charming has decided to spin a fairy tale where sleep is optional and reality is whatever he choses to release to the public. Just don’t let him near Sleeping Beauty – she’ll be looking like a hag in no time.

But at least I can go back to sleeping well. Bush & Co. stayed true to form by releasing the executive order on a Friday afternoon. They aren’t slowing down any; They just have too much democracy to destroy, so little time for destroying

Just a Little Blue (Updated)

As part of my continuing documentation of the girl teen band – hate group. Prussian Blue, I found out they were the subject of a new documentary, Nazi Pop Twins.

Apparently, the British television network Channel 4 aired the documentary about Lamb and Lynx last night. I figured this out because once again my Prussian Blue posts got a national boost following by the amazing number of visitors from England (Hi guys!).

This one was even less flattering than the documentary by Louis Theroux, Louis and the Nazis.

You can read the original press release here and from there view clips of the show. They are worth the couple of minutes. Apparently Lamb and Lynx are starting to grow up and ask – um – unfortunate questions.

A critique of the show was posted the next day on the Telegraph web site,

My heart sank slightly during the opening minutes of Nazi Pop Twins (Channel 4), a documentary about the American “white pride” pop duo Prussian Blue. Was it to be another trip stateside to seek out a weirdo or two and add to the oxygen of publicity, to use Margaret Thatcher’s term, they probably didn’t deserve? At 14, twin sisters Lamb and Lynx Gaede have generated hundreds of column inches with Prussian Blue’s white nationalistic music. Since their singing voices are rubbish, it’s the neo-Nazi connection that’s got them noticed and the less said about that the better, unless it’s to grind it firmly into the ground. Thankfully, film-maker James Quinn didn’t disappoint on that score.

Behind every teenage performing phenomenon there’s a pushy parent and here it took the form of “white nationalist” April Gaede, the twins’ mother and manager, who described Prussian Blue T-shirts featuring an image of Hitler as “funny”, and actively promoted a telephone/pen-pal relationship between her daughters and a sick-minded white supremacist serving a 19-year term in a maximum security jail. She and the girls lived on a ranch in California with her equally vile father Bill, whose sweeping denunciations of black Americans and Mexicans were so revolting as to not be repeatable here. He branded his cattle with swastikas and wondered whether people in Britain wished that Germany had won the Second World War. It was not a surprise that he loved guns; to call him difficult to like would be an understatement. “This goddam Nazi shit has ruined my life,” said his wife Diane. “I don’t have a single friend because he’s so hateful.”

It’s a credit to Quinn that he managed to retain the family’s co-operation with filming for as long as he did. His mission was to show how April was using her malleable twin daughters as a mouthpiece for her own extremist views, and to an extent he succeeded. As Holocaust deniers they sounded uncertain about the story they’d been fed by their elders, and they admitted privately that the “politics” surrounding their music had been draining. Because “a lot of people think we’re a bunch of psychos”, they felt, understandably, like taking a break. April is taking no chances with her three-year-old daughter – named Dresden – whose ABC lessons start with A is for Aryan.

Even more interesting is the fact that April’s mother apparently goes on a major tear, hammering Bill Gaede for his White Supremacist ways. A clip can be seen on the Channel 4 page above. The quotes are amazing,

It’s all because of this God Damned Nazi shit. That It’s just fuckin’ ruined my life. I’m gonna let it all hang out boy. [...] Even though we’ve lived here 30 years, I don’t have a single friend. You know why? I don’t have a single friend because he’s so hateful.

The girls themselves seem less “brainwashed” if questioned alone.

John Quinn: So what is the family’s image, what would you say the Prussian Blue’s image is?

Lamb or Lynx, I don’t know which is which): I think that most people think we’re a bunch of pschycos to tell you the truth.

JQ: Do you ever think of winding it down with the band?

L: [nods]

JQ: Really?

LoL: Yeah, we just kind of want to take a break for a little while. You know, I’ll aways be doing this for the rest of our lives; I’ll always play my guitar, I’ll aways write songs. I just.. We’re not going to be doing this our whole lives. We’re not gonna… We have other dreams and other goals than this.

If you are lucky enough to live in England, you can watch the whole thing online. (If you do, leave a comment and let me know what you think.)

While researching this, I also found out that Lamb and Lynx were the inspiration for an off, off Broadway musical last year. James Quinn, the producer of the documentary also spent time filming the production.White Noise. It was featured on Good Morning America and got a write up in Playbill

White Noise is billed as “A Cautionary Musical,” and is described by the authors this way: “Confirming the old adage that it’s better to be a star than wear one, an adorable pair of sisters, Blanche and Eva, lead the teen band White Noise, mixing irresistible harmonies with white power rhetoric and taking the nation by storm. Their message of racial purity resonates with young people across America and the rise of White Noise coincides with a rise in the white supremacist movement which threatens to engulf the country, as Blanche and Eva prove themselves to be masters of the most terrifying and unstoppable form of Fascism in today’s culture: Top Forty pop.”

I don’t think any of this will stop Prussian Blue from coming to Europe this summer and I am still trying to find out whether they have any venues planned for Germany, I will keep you up to date if I find anything out.

Please leave a comment if you saw the documentary. I’d really like to hear some opinions.

Update:

I found a blog completely decribing the show. It does seem like April, the mother, is losing her grip in the children. (No  wonder, she lost her grip on reality years ago.) But the writer of the blog entry makes another very telling point,

What scared me, ultimately, was not the radical anti-Prussian Blue response, which is positive, but the way it manifested itself, which is just as scary as the fascist claptrap these reluctant, confused girls are now regretting peddling on behalf of their damaged mother. A young, white man says “they ought to have their asses kicked; someone should kill them” without a trace of irony. The anti-hate campaigning that follows them across America is hardly surprising, but it’s none too cleverly handled. Directing violence at those who encourage hate in a tit-for-tat attempt at revenge is pretty bloody stupid. April Gaede clearly loves nothing more than being a martyr, claiming that every death threat and protest is a “gold medal” because she’s obviously “doing something right”. We need to fight hatred and intimidation with education and contempt, not with death threats and martyrdom.

What a depressing world. *sigh*

Evolution is not just a theory!

Evolution is not just a theory.

Pass the word! Digg it! Memorize the arguments!

That is all.

(Hat tip: Phil Plait/Bad Astronomy)

We’ve Learned Nothing New

Some things stay the same.

It doesn’t matter whether one places healing powers in the hands of the Gods, crystals or modern medicine; the argument really doesn’t change much. Even after 150 years.

As for the rain-makers, they carried the sympathies of the people along with them, and not without reason. With the following arguments they were all acquainted, and in order to understand their force, we must place ourselves in their position, and believe, as they do, that all medicines act by a mysterious charm. The term for cure may be translated “charm” (‘alaha’).

MEDICAL DOCTOR. Hail, friend! How very many medicines you have about you this morning! Why, you have every medicine in the country here.

RAIN DOCTOR. Very true, my friend; and I ought; for the whole country needs the rain which I am making.

M. D. So you really believe that you can command the clouds? I think that can be done by God alone.

R. D. We both believe the very same thing. It is God that makes the rain, but I pray to him by means of these medicines, and, the rain coming, of course it is then mine. It was I who made it for the Bakwains for many years, when they were at Shokuane; through my wisdom, too, their women became fat and shining. Ask them; they will tell you the same as I do.

M. D. But we are distinctly told in the parting words of our Savior that we can pray to God acceptably in his name alone, and not by means of medicines.

R. D. Truly! but God told us differently. He made black men first, and did not love us as he did the white men. He made you beautiful, and gave you clothing, and guns, and gunpowder, and horses, and wagons, and many other things about which we know nothing. But toward us he had no heart. He gave us nothing except the assegai, and cattle, and rain-making; and he did not give us hearts like yours. We never love each other. Other tribes place medicines about our country to prevent the rain, so that we may be dispersed by hunger, and go to them, and augment their power. We must dissolve their charms by our medicines. God has given us one little thing, which you know nothing of. He has given us the knowledge of certain medicines by which we can make rain. WE do not despise those things which you possess, though we are ignorant of them. We don’t understand your book, yet we don’t despise it. YOU ought not to despise our little knowledge, though you are ignorant of it.

M. D. I don’t despise what I am ignorant of; I only think you are mistaken in saying that you have medicines which can influence the rain at all.

R. D. That’s just the way people speak when they talk on a subject of which they have no knowledge. When we first opened our eyes, we found our forefathers making rain, and we follow in their footsteps. You, who send to Kuruman for corn, and irrigate your garden, may do without rain; WE can not manage in that way. If we had no rain, the cattle would have no pasture, the cows give no milk, our children become lean and die, our wives run away to other tribes who do make rain and have corn, and the whole tribe become dispersed and lost; our fire would go out.

M. D. I quite agree with you as to the value of the rain; but you can not charm the clouds by medicines. You wait till you see the clouds come, then you use your medicines, and take the credit which belongs to God only.

R. D. I use my medicines, and you employ yours; we are both doctors, and doctors are not deceivers. You give a patient medicine. Sometimes God is pleased to heal him by means of your medicine; sometimes not—he dies. When he is cured, you take the credit of what God does. I do the same. Sometimes God grants us rain, sometimes not. When he does, we take the credit of the charm. When a patient dies, you don’t give up trust in your medicine, neither do I when rain fails. If you wish me to leave off my medicines, why continue your own?

M. D. I give medicine to living creatures within my reach, and can see the effects, though no cure follows; you pretend to charm the clouds, which are so far above us that your medicines never reach them. The clouds usually lie in one direction, and your smoke goes in another. God alone can command the clouds. Only try and wait patiently; God will give us rain without your medicines.

R. D. Mahala-ma-kapa-a-a!! Well, I always thought white men were wise till this morning. Who ever thought of making trial of starvation? Is death pleasant, then?

M. D. Could you make it rain on one spot and not on another?

R. D. I wouldn’t think of trying. I like to see the whole country green, and all the people glad; the women clapping their hands, and giving me their ornaments for thankfulness, and lullilooing for joy.

M. D. I think you deceive both them and yourself.

R. D. Well, then, there is a pair of us (meaning both are rogues).

The above is only a specimen of their way of reasoning, in which, when the language is well understood, they are perceived to be remarkably acute. These arguments are generally known, and I never succeeded in convincing a single individual of their fallacy, though I tried to do so in every way I could think of. Their faith in medicines as charms is unbounded. The general effect of argument is to produce the impression that you are not anxious for rain at all; and it is very undesirable to allow the idea to spread that you do not take a generous interest in their welfare. An angry opponent of rain-making in a tribe would be looked upon as were some Greek merchants in England during the Russian war.

That comes from the amazingly entertaining Missionary Travels Researches in South Africa by David Livingstone. Yes, you presume correctly. That David Livingstone.

Somehow I saw this coming…

Your results:
You are Leonard McCoy (Bones)

Leonard McCoy (Bones)
80%
Jean-Luc Picard
70%
Spock
65%
An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
65%
Chekov
55%
James T. Kirk (Captain)
45%
Will Riker
35%
Data
25%
Geordi LaForge
25%
Uhura
20%
Beverly Crusher
20%
Worf
20%
Deanna Troi
20%
Mr. Scott
5%
Mr. Sulu
0%
You are a pessimistic and bitter doctor,
but you are skilled in the ways of medicine and science.


Click here to take the “Which Star Trek character are you?” quiz…

*sigh* Damit I’m a … wait a second!

Short and Sad

Sometimes I think I must live in a cave.

I had never heard of Hemingway’s shortest story. According to Arthur C. Clark (well actually according to Wikipedia on Hemingway, mentioning Clark), Hemingway bet $10 that he could write a complete novel in six words. He won the bet.

For Sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.

- Ernest Hemingway

Wired asked a number of top science fiction authors to do the same. Harry Harrison, one of my favorite authors came up with “TIME MACHINE REACHES FUTURE!!! … nobody there …” Many of the other entries are equally as good.

And no, I’m not going to try.

I’m Sure I Don’t Want A Review…

… do I?

I mean considering my meager grasp of basic grammar, lack of writing skills and … well general intelligence.

But here goes. Adam Mutum in what can only be considered a vent of meme foolishness has offered to review blogs for free. All you need to do is link to him. Like this.

On the one hand, I suspect this is an amazingly good way to improve your technorati, ecoblog etc. (rankings if you are Adam). On the other hand this might end up spiraling out of control. Get your review soon while he still has time.

Ah, but what could be worse. Being told I’m a bad blogger, or merely suspecting it.

And I Thought I Was a Nice Guy

What's My Blog Rated? From Mingle2 - Online Dating

[Meme sponsored by:] Mingle2 - Online Dating

I am so hopelessly in trouble now! First the squamata skeptic comment, now this. ;-)

Sorry Trees.

What Need Forgiveness

One argument often brought against atheists is that they can present no ultimate authority for ethics. This, apologetics argue, will lead down a slippery slope where relative ethics become no ethics; genial coexistence leading to genocide. Should the secular ethicist present the idea of an evolved morality, the apologetic will riposte again with the relativistic argument that evolution implies change – ergo the slippery slope beckons yet again.

But what if there is an ultimate morality. What if ethics is a framework not for prescriptive morals but descriptive reality? What if moral feelings are as “natural” as sight? What if the sense of righteousness is often overlooked, not because it does not exist, but because it is perhaps most easily overridden and ignored (maybe because it is most recently evolved)?

Before I embark on an exploration of morals, I’d like to detour into the realm of our more well understood senses; moving from the precise to the relative, in order to give myself a framework for discussion.

Let us start with that most important sense, sight. If you take an atheist and the most fundamental Christian (or Muslim) out on a beautiful summer day, both would agree that the sky is blue. Before the work of Newton, Foucault and others, the description of light wasn’t understood as a physical phenomena; the sky was “just” blue; now we understand the manner in which the light is scattered giving us a physical understand of such a beautiful backdrop.

As the day passes into evening, the sky might turn a beautiful shade of red. Let us bring a third person to our group. Discussing the evening sky, the first person comments on the beautiful hue, the second agrees. But the newcomer disagrees and says the sky is simply gray. You see our third individual is color-blind, physically unable to detect the color red (a condition far more common than you might think).

Irrespective of our group the sky still has a color, be it blue, red or gray. Key here is that the physical ability of each person limits the capability to see color. That ability is not only inborn but changes from person to person. We accept it as a fact of life, like the fact that some people are taller than others, with no further thought.

We can continue our thought experiment by moving to the idea of smell. Let us take our group and lead them to a flower, asking each to partake of its wonderful aroma. The first, a parfumeur, pronounces the scent exquisitely unique and breathtaking, the second, consumed by a bad cold, smells nothing. The last refuses to consider the idea in the knowledge that the mere attempt will likely produce an allergy attack and literally take his breath away.

Again the flower has not changed. The smell is still there but the reactions: enjoyment, indifference and rejection, all based on secular realities, all completely different.

Finally, our imaginary group chooses to dine together, each preparing a dish for the others. The first makes a vegetable curry, the second roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and the last a wonderful white wine sorbet, creamy and perfectly chilled. But again in our experimental world, all is not right. You see, one is unused to eating spicy foods and the curry is hot enough to make the eyes water; the roast beef unacceptable to the vegetarian and the sorbet unpalatable to the other who refuses alcohol preferring to remain abstinent.

Here the problems arise not from the physical characteristics of our merry band, but the cultural ones. Each person has learned behaviors and proclivities added to physical characteristics inherited at birth and acquired through illness or training.

This brings us back to morality.

Let us assume for a moment that morals are the cognitive translation of right-ness as just as sight is a cognitive translation of electomagnetic quanta, smell and taste the interpetation of minute chemical concentrations in air, liquid or solids.

We accept the existence of color blindness and intuitively understand that height changes from individual to individual; illness, medication or alcohol might temporarily heighten or dampen certain scenes. We all live happily (?) in largely multicultural societies. If we assume all these things are normal, why appeal to a higher power to justify the existence of morality? Could not the perception of right, a sixth “moral” sense, have evolved much like the other senses? And couldn’t that sense differ from person to person, culture to culture? None of the earlier discussion implied that the thing itself changes, the sky remained red, the curry – spicy. It means that we might all differently perceive a single, definite moral reality.

If sight, smell and sound evolved to react to certain specific, concrete environmental conditions, why must one assume morals be a different beast? One might comment that it because morals seem so ethereal; there is no physical “there” there.

Unfortunately perception is not necessary for existence; describe “red” to the blind man; try to prove the existence of “red” to the blind man. You might collect a group of people in a double blind (no pun intended) experiment each telling the blind man whether the color on the card is grey or red. You would do better than chance, so there is something there. But the hits wouldn’t be perfect – color blindness – remember? You might present the theoretical and physical characteristics of light and explaining that red can be found somewhere around a wavelength of 630nm; the blind man would still not feel the emotional majesty of a crimson sky.

If one assumes the other senses, sight, smell and the rest, all evolved in order improve the chances of genetic survival, couldn’t morals self assemble in much the same way? The simplistic argument that unbridled selfishness leads to evolutionary advantage seems neither to be born out by experiment nor perception. Doesn’t unbridled selfishness lead to short term gains but ultimately to failure (see for example Jared Diamond’s Collapse)? Might one of the very steps on the path of evolution to “man” been the development of a different long term understanding of right-ness; a way of knowing as genetically ingrained but as variable as eye color? Those who did not “see the light” slowly losing out to their more moral competition?

And doesn’t this model seem to fit the “facts” better? The Golden Rule is almost universal. Only the most radical fundamentalist denies that “unbelievers” lack any grounding in moral thought (or they read far too much into Ps 14:3). If one assumes that it is not morality itself but moral sensibility that changes from person to person, culture to culture doesn’t that answer many questions, not of how the world should be, but at least of how the world actually is? Do religions claim to be reality or merely an improvement, optional?

Finally it should be noted that the existence of God is neither explicitly accepted nor denied in this model.

A Deist might make the argument that an omnipotent (and perhaps omni-benevolent) being loaded the dice in order to force intelligent creatures to develop moral feelings. This might be called the Anthropic Gambit. Just like God tweaked all the other constants in the Universe, the speed of light, the various forces, masses and frequencies, She also tweaked the ‘goodness’ constant. Like the Anthropic argument for God, this idea is undeniably, well, undeniable but it is also unprovable. And of course Ockham’s razor warns us to steer clear of these kinds of uncharted waters (but people sink in them every day).

Critical is that the existence of God isn’t necessary. There is no necessity for a God-given authoritative morality any more than there is a necessity for a God-given authoritative blue. There is no need for Kant’s argument that “ought implies can.” (Since we ought to achieve moral perfection it implies that we can achieve moral perfection. But we always fail, we always make mistakes. Thus the only way that moral perfection can be achieved is through God or God’s forgiveness. I call this the Forgiveness Gambit.)

There might be an ultimate morality waiting to be discovered, understood and researched. By refusing to ask the question, indeed by denying the question itself, Deity-based moral systems perhaps lock themselves into an intellectual trap no different than that experienced by Creation “scientists.”

If one assumes that the failing is not in existence or authority, but in perception, what need Christian forgiveness? Must one forgive the color-blind, allergic vegetarian?

NASA Needs a New Director!

NASA Needs a New Director!

WTF! I repeat WTF!

I just listened to Michael Griffin on NPR. I’m still under shock. First, go listen.

NPR: Do you have any doubt that this is a problem that mankind has to wrestle with?

Griffith: I have no doubt that … a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with. To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of Earth’s climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn’t change. First of all, I don’t think it’s within the power of human beings to assure that the climate does not change, as millions of years of history have shown. And second of all, I guess I would ask which human beings — where and when — are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that’s a rather arrogant position for people to take.

NPR: Is that thinking that informs you as you put together the budget? That something is happening, that it’s worth studying, but you’re not sure that you want to be battling it as an army might battle an enemy?

Griffith: Nowhere in NASA’s authorization, which of course governs what we do, is there anything at all telling us that we should take actions to affect climate change in either one way or another. We study global climate change, that is in our authorization, we think we do it rather well. I’m proud of that, but NASA is not an agency chartered to, quote, battle climate change.

[Original bold removed. My emphasis]

Again Michael Griffin is the NASA director. He is claiming that we shouldn’t do anything about global warming because we don’t know whether this is the best climate there ever was?!

That is just… so … disingenuous. If Phil Plait hadn’t already resigned from NASA, I would expect him too.

To say that people want to change the climate is to ignore the fact that mankind is already changing the climate, in ways we can’t predict – and the NASA director says “I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with.”

Is this a new Frank Luntz talking point. We don’t want to do anything about climate change because doing something might be bad?

What! WTF!

When Less Is Moore

I am not a big Michael Moore fan.

Don’t get me wrong; I understand what he’s trying to do – balance right wing demagoguery with hard-core, left-wing propaganda. Most of his documentaries leave me sputtering something along the lines of ”But, but, but… of course they did that! They’re scum. That’s obvious.”

But even when Moore starts burning the Bush, I still can’t seem to start waving the flag.

That’s why my ears perked up when a report was aired on German radio about two Canadian filmmakers, Rick Caine and Debbie Melnyk, setting out to follow in Michael Moore’s footsteps. No, not just the documentary-making ones, the physical ones.

Caine and Melnyk, self admitted Canadian lefties, started out to make a documentary about their hero, Michael Moore. It didn’t go well. John Anderson at the International Herald (or AP?) interviewed the husband and wife team,

“What he’s done for documentaries is amazing,” said Melnyk, 48, a native of Toronto and a freelance TV producer, who even now expounds on the good she says Moore has done. “People go to see documentaries now and, as documentary makers, we’re grateful.”

But according to Caine, 46, an Ohio-born journalist and cameraman, the freewheeling persona cultivated by Moore, and the free-thinking rhetoric expounded by his friends and associates were not quite what they encountered when they decided to examine his work. “As investigative documentarists we always thought we could look at anything we wanted,” Caine said. “But when we turned the cameras on one of the leading figures in our own industry, the people we wanted to talk to were like: ‘What are you doing? Why are you throwing stones at the parade leader?'”

Melnyk added, “We were very lonely.”

The movie Manufacturing Dissent was born.

Moore’s missteps included faked footage, creative editing (who’d a thought?!) and perhaps most damning, leaving out the interview that was the premise for Moore’s first big hit, Roger & Me. Apparently Moore did actually get an interview with GM CEO Roger Smith, he just didn’t include the footage in the movie. The Canadian filmmakers swept the cutting room floor and included the ‘lost’ scenes in their documentary. Ouch.

They tried to get an interview or at least a little camera time with the ‘giant’ of documentary filmmaking. But even after staging several Moore-ian stunts, Caine and Melnyk’s efforts were apparently less successful than the supersized, lefty superhero.

Having lefties attack Michael Moore (well, having anyone attack Michal Moore) is a highlight in any Fox “News” cycle. But the filmmakers, after seeing the distortion a few nips and tucks their hero could produce, were marginally sceptical about appearing on an edited Fox broadcast. They did however agree to appear live. The result was – well – interesting.

Even more interesting is the resultant comment produced after they appeared with Martha MacCallum on Fox’s “The Live Desk.”

“We said: ‘This is crap. We do not want to become poster kids for the right-wing media. No, we haven’t seen the light and converted.’ That is exactly what they were thinking,” Melnyk says. “But we were intent on telling them that it’s not only Michael Moore who is lying and cheating, it’s mainstream news organizations and George Bush.”

Adds Caine with a laugh: “I could hear a person in New York screaming into my earpiece: ‘Get that asshole off the air.’ They cut us off.”

The couple, in short, refused to bitterly attack Moore, even though his handlers once had them kicked out of the audience at one of his speeches.

Sicko

Now Moore is headlining again with his newest effort Sicko.

The documentary premiered on May 20 in Cannes to fairly good reviews. According to the Guardian,

Michael Moore’s Sicko, which received its first-ever screening in front of a packed, early-morning audience in Cannes yesterday, is a far more thoughtful and measured piece of film making than his Palme d’Or winning rant, Fahrenheit 9/11It is, however, unlikely to repeat the commercial success and global notoriety of its predecessor simply because its concerns are more parochial, focusing on the American health service and the system’s iniquities compared with those of Cuba, Canada, France and the UK.

The film is a campaigning attack on the profit-driven US healthcare system which, argues Moore, is weighted in favour of the drugs and insurance companies rather than the patients. He begins by saying that 50 million Americans can’t afford health cover and goes on to state that many of the 250 million who do pay insurance are not as well-protected as they might think.

Always good for a controversy or two, Moore filmed  a brief segment, in Cuba with 9/11 responders. This was to highlight the differences in healthcare between the ‘richest nation in the world’ and – well – Cuba.

Unfortunately, or perhaps predictably, this got the US Treasury Department in a huff; Moore might not have gotten the appropriate licenses. (It should be noted that this would have even irritated the USTD under Clinton who famously tightened the embargo in 1996.) One effect the Moore visit to Cuba will likely have is to make the exile Cubans in Florida grumpy. Probably not a good way to get more liberal/democratic support so close to an important presidential election in that swing state. But hey; let’s let embargos be embargos, shall we?

It remains to be seen what effect this movie will have. I’m sure the British will smirk when watching Moore wax poetic on their much maligned National Health System since the NHS is usually described in the British press as one of the roots of all evil. As a matter of fact, some have already started smirking,

Our own dear National Health Service also comes in for lavish praise. There’s a particularly comic sequence in which Moore marches round Hammersmith hospital in London searching for the payments section. Eventually he finds the cashier’s office: much mock incredulity ensues when he discovers its purpose is not to receive money from patients, but to pay out cash to those of them who cannot afford their travel expenses.

I guess I could hope though. I’d like to see Michael Moore’s next effort be about the food industry; a major campaign to get people in America to lose weight.

Then we might finally get what I’d really enjoy – less of Moore. That would be a documentary I’d go watch.

Voyeurism for the Truly Lazy

Got an hour?

This is just … WOW!  A map of the world showing each flickr picture as it is posted.

And for those who don’t just live in 2 dimensions… how about the world? (I’m not sure this pulls new pictures all the time though.)

Hugs – A YouTube meme

Terrorism, it’s only a problem …

…if ‘mericans are targeted.

Apparently the MSM (WP, NYT, LAT, …) and the blogosphere just about freaked out yesterday when, as Wonkette so aptly put it, the Feds Nixed Dix Six.

Bloggers like Ed Morrissey at Captains Quarters and The Moderate Voice’s Shaun Mullen are wondering if this is just another repeat of the famous Miami mixup.

But that is only a small part of the story. These were foreigners, Albanians and ‘muslims’ (abet with no direct connection to al Quaeda) and are thus big news.

The real story is that this only makes national news if the ‘terrorists’ are *gasp* foreign and the targets American. If they’d have been just a couple of good ol’ boys from Alabama out to kill Mexicans … no big deal. Right?

From the Huntsville Times

Five members of a self-styled militia were denied bail Tuesday after a federal agent testified they planned a machine gun attack on Mexicans, but a judge approved bail for a sixth man.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Armstrong said at a hearing in Birmingham federal court he could not grant bail to the five because of the agent’s testimony and the amount of weapons – including about 200 homemade hand grenades – that were seized in raids Friday in DeKalb County.

“I’m going to be worried if I let these individuals go at this time,” he said.
[…]
During the raids last week, agents recovered 130 homemade hand grenades, a grenade launcher, about 70 hand grenades rigged to be fired from a rifle, a machine gun, a short-barrel shotgun and 2,500 rounds of ammunition, authorities said.

Go back and re-read that last paragraph: 130 homemade hand grenades, a grenade laucher, a machine gun? And the guys planning to hit Fort Dix make the front pages. The arrests in DeKalb County. happened May 2nd.

Um – Folks, can we please take a reality break.

Where were the press releases, the front page headlines, the bloggers terrified of homegrown American militias? Where was Tony Snow Dana Perino pointing out that ATF&E had stopped a terrorist plot?

Was Fort Dix a real plot? Time will tell. Was Birmingham a real plot? Sure looks like it.

Should MSM be ashamed that they are pushing the Fort Dix plot? Look, I have a question for you. Why is America only worried about foreigners, muslims?

There seem to be real terrorist attacks planned and stopped, but no one notices. Just as long as the ‘terrorists’ are Americans.

Isn’t that the real shame?

(Hat Tip: Dave Neiwert/Orcinus)

The Path Leading to a Laneway

Anya Peters is both a very strong person and a someone who has a very long journey both behind and ahead of her.

She first came to my attention through her blog, WanderingScribe about her life, living alone, in her car on at the end of a lane somewhere in England. It was well written, moving and extremely powerful. I have written about her before.

abandoned-anya-peters1.jpgHer book, Abandoned, the Story about a Little Girl Who Didn’t Belong, finally came out at the beginning of the month and I was literally unable to put it down. What I expected was a little background about how she had ended up at the end of her rope and more about what her writing had given her. What I got was an amazingly powerfully written book about how she came to believe that there was no help; there was no one to turn to; no one she could trust. Worse she felt she didn’t deserve any help. It is a story of child abuse, mental, physical and sexual, of abandonment, and eventually betrayal. It is the story of one child’s torturous journey to adulthood.

There were times when the book was amazingly difficult to read, Peters does not hide what goes on behind a smokescreen of innuendo. She clearly and bluntly tells the reader what it is like to be sexually abused before she even understands what is happening. When the abuse is finally exposed, her worst nightmares come to pass, she is separated from the woman she feels is her mother. It is heartbreaking – you will cry.

The tale of abuse explains how she ends up living in her car and to how she came to write a blog. In contrast to the first part of the book, this part is told almost breathlessly, as if it were only half remembered. The tale of her childhood is etched upon her very being. But the struggle to exist once she became homeless – the stress, the cold, the worry, the shame – all conspired to force her to live day to day and to concentrate not on self-reflection, but on survival.

For those interested in the day to day story of how she survived, those tales can be found not in the book but in the blog. It is a tale everyone should also read.

On a personal note, reading this book reminded me of something I have heard Richard Dawkins say repeatedly; that religious education is a form of child abuse. It would be nice if someone would send this book to him. I understand his rhetoric, he wants to shock. But in doing so he merely harms his own cause by belittling the real damage, the absolute hate, that occurs during child abuse. It is one of the reasons I find Dawkins so objectionable. Anyone who reads this book will realise the rage I feel when I hear Richard Dawkins relate religion with child abuse – it is not.

I urge everyone to order this book. Peters has a long journey ahead of her. She must readjust not only to day to day living, the commonplace ecstasy felt simply when standing barefoot on a carpeted floor holding a warm cup of tea, not only the struggle to find a job and healthy companionship. She must learn to trust herself; not to look into her own soul to try to determine what she did wrong, but to accept that others have harmed her.

To get a taste of her writing, you should read her reaction to seeing her book for the first time in a shop. It is very indicative of how she writes,

It was the weirdest thing. I think my heart stopped at least two beats.

I’ve had a copy of that cover pinned to the noticeboard in my room for months now, and it’s here on the blog as well, so the image on the front of the book is very familiar to me by now. But in the shop today, seeing it there for the first time — and a day too soon! — for a moment I was completely disorientated and just stared up at it frowning, thinking ‘what’s that doing there?’ I recognised it as my book, but, for a split second that’s all I did, just recognised it as mine — a possession, something belonging to me. It was almost as if I had left my own copy — which just happened to be in my bag at the time — there on the shelf by mistake. ‘How did that get there?’ my head was trying to say, as my hand almost got ready to grab it off the shelf and put it back into my bag. As soon as my head caught up and I realised why it was there I turned and left the shop without even taking it down to look at it. Very, very odd reaction.

But it’s there, my life in a book on a bookshelf somewhere, and it’s bizarre seeing it, but I was right: it doesn’t belong to me anymore, it’s somebody else’s book now. My life is just a story now, out there with all the other stories. And hopefully now, at long, long last, I can finally be free of it and move on.

I hope she can move on and I wish her the very best of luck.

She is an excellent author and sounds like a wonderful person.

Mea Culpa

Hi Tom*,

I would like to apologize for coming into your blog, calling names and starting a fight. Basic decency should have held my hand. Again, I’m sorry.

Before you explode again, I beg you to perhaps give me a moment (well – several hundred words) to explain why I responded to your remark “Why, during this day and age (i.e. post 9/11) are we allowing someone who is less than a full citizen to purchase firearms? Any politician with half a lick of sense should strike while the iron is hot on this one,” with the comment “It’s just – sorry – just so racist.”

I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree about the racism thing which is why I’m doing this here and not directly posting it to your comments. Perhaps I am also posting it here to show my readers that, yes, sometimes, I am scum. If you would like to delete the link in your comments (and perhaps ridicule this), that would be fine. I think it should be your choice. I shall not return.

I think our problem is largely a matter of definition and perspective.

When I say you are supporting racist positions, it most definitely does not mean that I think you think or scream racial epithets at individuals; I don’t think you, personally discriminate against anyone specifically. That is what I tried to convey by saying that you are not personally racist. I think it very likely that you treat every individual you meet fairly and equally. I suspect you are fine at a personal level.

Unfortunately, I think you harbor a much more insidious type of racism; not hate based on race and not hate directed at individuals, but irrationally based fear directed at over-generalized groups. I suspect you fear a nebulous “they,” who are a threat to America and the world. Perhaps you are right; you think it is rational – I call it racist.

I am an American and have lived abroad for the past twenty years. I have seen enough cultures and enough peoples that I can no longer see the world through a “them” filter because “they” are always just over the hill or across the border. And I have also been “them”– both abroad and in America so I understand the issue from both sides.

Your question about limiting firearm ownership to full citizens reminds me of Americans who ask “Why do people in the rest of the world hate Americans?” Well Tom, apparently the mistrust is mutual. I have also seen first hand how international opinion has turned not only again American policies but against Americans individually (see also the PEW Report from 2006). Based on your reaction, you feel your mistrust is well founded. Just as you probably think the rest of the world is wrong in being sceptical of American citizens. Perhaps they simply fear you without any real evidence but they know they are right in doing so. Just as you know you are right about “foreigners.”

To me your position bears no difference to theirs and is no different than the positions of so many before you who feared outsiders.

Think back on American history. “They” have been, at different times, the Latinos (1980s-2000s), the Russians (50’s to 80’s), the Japanese (30’s and 40’s) and the Germans (1917-1940’s). As a matter of fact, if you go back far enough, it was the Irish and the Italians. You might not know it, but the first car bomb in history, well wagon bomb, was detonated 1920 in New York by Mario Buda, an Italian anarchist. The Irish were the criminal scourge of the late 19th century – or at least many thought so. Americans no longer fear the Irish or the Italians. They no longer fear Germans, Japanese or the Russians (most of the time).

Have these people, these nationalities as individuals changed so much in such a short time? Are “they” just suddenly nice, law-abiding, America-loving peoples? Or has the focus of fear shifted? I think it is the latter.

You write of being “most concerned about Middle Eastern immigrants” – a euphemism I take to mean Arabs and Persians as you are probably not too concerned about the Israelis. Right? Interestingly the statistics you quoted me from the Small Arms Digest (pg 178) would seem to show a disproportionate threat emanating from Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa with the Middle East a distant fourth. But I’m sure you knew that, you read your sources thoroughly. So, are you concerned about the Arabs and Persians because of facts or because of a racial, political or a religious traits?

If it is racial – I rest my case. QED

If it is political, doesn’t your policy punish those who believe in democracy and flee to America because they think it is a better place; those who come to America for freedom not oppression? Doesn’t your policy give evidence to those who would claim that Americans arbitrarily discriminate against outsiders for no other reason than the fact that they are not American? Doesn’t your prejudice feed the al Quada propaganda machine as well as any terrorist success?

If it is religion, then you can’t really stop in the Middle East but must keep a close eye on those pesky Indonesians and those Muslims with European passports now spreading across the continent. You also need to be worried about the 1-2 percent of your neighbors who hold both the Islamic faith and the American citizenship. (But the last group poses a bit of a problem justifying the green card prohibition – right?) Of course, hating and mistrusting people because of their religion has deep roots. You are, perhaps, better able to understand the deep rooted mistrust of Protestants since your return from Ireland. Or was it the Catholics? Strange thing who “they” can be, huh?

I have my own fears Tom. I fear those who feel that there is an indefinable group to be dreaded. Specifically – I fear people like you.

Those who fear are almost worse than those who overtly hate; those openly doing the lynching and the killing. Those who fear but do not hate are the ones who honestly disapprove of the deeds but quietly understand the reasoning and silently applaud the results.

It is not usually those who explicitly hate that scare me; they are often easily identifiable. They are the blackshirts, the skinheads, the white-sheeted bigots. They are the Hitlers, the bin Ladens, the Ahmednejads. Even if you can’t immediately stop them, you at least know who they are.

Unfortunately, true power is not in hands of those people who hate and lead but in those who fear and follow.

It is those that fear. It is those that feared the Blacks, and the Mexicans and the Asians. It is those that feared the Jews; and the Catholics; and the Protestants. And now, it is those that fear the Muslims. And those that fear Americans. It is that fear that feeds hate.

You would prohibit those who have green cards from legally owning a weapon because you fear the consequences. I ask again, do you fear the German engineer, the Vietnamese cook, the Brazilian model or the South African ‘security expert’; the ones living next to the marginally medicated American with the .357 Magnum and a borderline disorder? Are they the problem? I’m sure permanent residents in the American military are among those you would disarm. Are they to be feared? Were these the mental images of “someone who is less than a full citizen” you conjured up when writing the post? If not, why not?

Seen in that light, was my reaction to your comment about denying gun ownership to those un-Americans with green cards that out-of-line? Using my perspective, my definition, would you consider what you proposed racist? Or is it just nationalist – excuse me – patriotic? Or would you say rational?

I feel you have yet to show me valid data supporting your hypothesis. No, a list pulled from Wikipedia is not valid data. And no, I don’t need to invalidate what you are saying because you have not shown any real evidence other than a gut reaction and the ancient idea of racial profiling. You see reams of evidence; I see media hysteria, smoke and mirrors. You urge a call to action; I see overreaction. Again, we will simply have to agree to disagree here.

I suspect we could argue statistics until we are blue in the face and never get anywhere. I would argue the statistics either don’t exist or are not openly available. I would nevertheless look to the centralized data from the FBI, collected and collated from information provided by local law enforcement agencies, for some statistical guidelines to evaluate the numbers you present. You seemed to think your idea was obvious. You fail to realise that if your idea is obvious, the data supporting it should be obvious too. It is not. In the end, neither of us would win but each would probably lose both tempers and time.

Outlawing gun-ownership to a minimal percentage of the people living in America would have zero effect on violence because there will always be enough weapons available for sale; those who want firearms will get them. That is why I found your idea so preposterous. In addition, arbitrarily determining that anyone without American citizenship (or merely “Middle Eastern”) is a public danger is preposterously unfair.

Perhaps after reading this you will understand why I labelled your idea racist.

Remember my response was based as much on fear as on distaste. You might chalk it up to my own particular brand of racism – regardless of color, creed or religion; a visceral mistrust of those that needlessly, irrationally fear.

Perhaps, in light of the fact that my definition of racism and racist thinking includes racial profiling, you might go back and reread your final comment. Was it rational or does it fit my definition of racist?

My parting shot Tom? You were spot on in calling me an SOB.

Not because we disagree. That’s fine. I suspect our definitions and perspectives vary; I suspect I have a much thinner skin on many issues. Nevertheless, I think we could find things about which to agree.

No, you were spot on calling me an SOB because I walked into your house – uninvited and unknown – and I started spouting invectives. It was inexcusable and you were right to call me on it.

Again; it was your blog; my misstep – my bad – my apologies.

Have a nice day.
Ben (the bad one)

[* I’m posting this here because I did the inexcusable - the internet equivalent of a drive by shooting, I think I overstepped the line at a strange blog, commenting and throwing invectives. I feel it is my duty to air my dirty laundry on my time, my bandwidth. His blog has seen enough.

I hope the person I have offended chooses to read this and not to delete the link to it. If not, I have complete understanding. I will not link to his blog because this disagreement is so totally different from the issues he discusses; I suspect the traffic drawn would be unwarranted and largely uninterested in his normal issues.

This is merely an open, personal mea culpa.]

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